I encountered the term "horn 5th" in a book on orchestration. I have difficulty understanding the exact meaning of the term. Unfortunately, couldn't find anything about this term by googling, except this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consecutive_fifths

In this link, a description of what these "horn fifth" are is provided, yet it's short and not very clear--at least to me. Can anyone help me on this? Thanks

2 Answers 2


More specifically, a horn fifth is a form of direct fifth that occurs when two parts moving in the same direction progress through a fifth. So called because:

  1. it is characteristic writing for natural horns,
  2. it is considered an acceptable form of otherwise contrapuntally weak motion.

Here's an example using the notes available on the natural horn:

horn fifths


Horn fifths are not parallel fifths. Rather, they are the characteristic sequence of intervals that occurs when two horns play their natural scale with an offset of two notes.

Since the notes of that scale are (in C major) e - g - c - d - e - f - g - a (the B flat is usually omitted because it is not quite a B flat and doesn't harmonize as well as the other notes), the actual sequence of intervals is sixth - fifth - third - third - third - third.

This sequence is so characteristic of horns that it signifies e.g. a pastoral atmosphere even when not actually played by horns. For instance, Paganini's Caprice in E major consists largely of horn fifths.

beginning of caprice IX

  • Thanks for your explanation, but could you please elaborate on that? As I understand it, the term is not limited to the horns and it doesn't even indicate playing of fifth intervals! I'm a little unfamiliar with brass instruments. For example, when we say that the two trumpets are playing "horn 5ths," what do we mean by that exactly (in the key of Bb)? By the way, does it have another name? Or, if you were to come up with a different name for this, what would your suggestion be? Commented May 30, 2018 at 9:47

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